Up close: Debate over proposed 76ers arena near Chinatown heats up | Nydia Han talks with both sides

76 Place would be on Market Street between 10th and 11th, with developers demolishing a block of the Fashion District Mall.

ByNydia Han and Heather Grubola WPVI logo
Friday, December 16, 2022
Up close: Debate over proposed 76ers arena near Chinatown heats up
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Action News' Nydia Han sat down with people on both sides of the debate to understand the issues and what Chinatown means to the community, from the elders to the younger generation.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- The fight over a proposal to build a new Sixers arena next to Chinatown is heating up.

The arena, called 76 Place, would be on Market Street between 10th and 11th streets, with developers demolishing a block of the Fashion District Mall.

Demolition for the proposed area would start in 2026, construction in 2028, and open in September 2031.

Action News' Nydia Han sat down with people on both sides of the debate to understand the issues and what Chinatown means to the community, from the elders to the younger generation.

"We think that it is a really great opportunity, not just for the organization, not just for the team, but also for the city," said David Gould of 76 DevCorp. "We know that East Market Street has been challenged from sort of like a business and development and economic opportunity standpoint. If you walk down there, there's a lot of vacancy. The Fashion District hasn't really lived up to what it I think what people hoped it would be. And we also have heard that that lack of activity has created issues for surrounding businesses and some of the community."

But it will be no slam dunk.

While the proposed site sits on one of the busiest transit hubs and the developers promise to revitalize the area while keeping the preservation of Chinatown top of mind, convincing the community won't be easy.

Allen Lin coaches the Philadelphia Suns, which is Chinatown's basketball team.

He's also a big fan of the 76ers but says, "It's definitely going to impact Chinatown in a bad way."

Many in Chinatown agree.

Howland Cui is also a member of AAU, whose youth and founding members are working to preserve Chinatown and fighting against 76 Place, he's a fan of the team not of the proposed stadium.

When Cui was asked what Chinatown means to him he said, "It means a place where I can connect with friends and my culture."

"I come to Chinatown at least twice, maybe three times a week. I usually eat dinner here with my family or we go grocery shopping," said Celine To.

To and other AAU youth surveyed 700 people in Chinatown about Chinatown.

"And we found out that not a lot of people knew the borders of Chinatown," said To.

Or that the borders have been shrinking.

"They built the commuter tunnel, which kind of like cut Chinatown," To said.

"What people don't understand is that fighting for justice in this particular community is a tradition," said Debbie Wei.

Wei is a founding member of AAU and now passing on the tradition to the other youth, who say they're concerned an arena would cause issues from parking to pricing out the current community.

"Placing the 76ers stadium there would ruin a lot of the Chinese and local businesses here in Chinatown," said Cui.

"I know that it will not only bring it even more congestion, but it will, it won't be as safe as it was before," To said.

"I myself live in Chinatown and I have been in many other Chinatowns, especially in DC... and I've seen how the stadium has affected their Chinatown," said Lin.

Suzi is talking about what is now called Capitol One Arena.

Wei says after the arena ruined Washington DC's Chinatown.

"They had 3000 residents. Now they have 300. Chinese residents, those residents can't leave because they're in subsidized housing that the community fought for. A lot of them are senior citizens. The closest Chinese grocery store is 26 miles away."

Action News caught up with Wei and others as they headed to Washington in September. Wei recalled Chinatown's long fight against the development, including a successful one against a new Phillies stadium in 2000.

"Then in 2008, when they announced the casino, we crossed out stadium, we put in Casino, and we had new T-shirts," she said. "Wearing this T-shirt, it gives me some degree of strength, some degree of hope."

Drawing parallels to Washington, DC

This week, Action News took Chinatown's latest concerns directly to 76 DevCorp's David Gould who promised to develop in a responsible and equitable way.

"We're putting forth a proposal that avoids all of the pitfalls of past development proposals, and really crafted in a way in partnership with stakeholders in the community that has the potential to be a net positive," he said.

"A lot of people are drawing parallels between Washington DC and Philadelphia," Action News' Nydia Han said to Gould.

"We want to learn from the mistakes that were made from a project like that. And make sure that this is the inverse of it, that this is actually something that uplifts and helps sustain the community as opposed to threatens it and shrinks it," he said.

"How is 76 Place different?" Han asked.

"Well, one is that we are not developing in the community. We're developing on Market Street so it's not a project that's in Chinatown," Gould said.

Gould also tells me 76 DevCorp is aware of and working to address other concerns.

"We are taking a very intentional approach to really learn from the community to figure out how do we put together a proposal that that could benefit the neighborhood," he said. "That could be building new affordable housing that could be different grant and loan programs for businesses. We will have a traffic and parking study and plan so we can show how we mitigate the potential negative impacts there."

"A lot of the things that are contributing to the lack of safety is the lack of activity," Gould said. "Not only will the activity that arena brings bring more positive, you know, foot traffic that will help deter some of those those types of incidents. But we will also be investing in security and safety ambassadors and things like that. "

But Chinatown leaders accuse the organization of a lack of transparency thus far.

"There has been very, very little information," said John Chin of the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation.

"Were you aware of the 76 Place before the public announcement in July," asked Han.

"They came to us," Chin said. "That was about two days before they made the public announcement."

"People in Chinatown felt blindsided by the announcement and first impressions matter," Han posed to Gould.

"We certainly didn't intend any disrespect," he said. "We met with a number of community groups, just before the announcement, which is really, as soon as we were, we were able to."

"Our website was published the day the announcement which was in both English and Chinese to make sure people could go and get information about the project, people have the opportunity to submit questions through that, as well. We did our best to drive people to that to get accurate information," he said.

But Chinatown leaders allege just last week 76 DevCorp tried to sneak a clause into a City Council bill to pave a path forward.

"It's kind of a miracle that we even caught it," said Wei. "They have not earned our trust at all."

The Sixers say the language was included "inadvertently".

"It was a mistake," Gould said. "We know that that's a really important cultural hub, not just for the people who live there, and work there, but also for the broader Chinese and Chinese American diaspora, you know, throughout the region."

Meantime, in continuing meetings 76 DevCorp promises to keep explaining and listening.

"Absolutely, we will be listening. And that's really been our goal," Gould said.

It's sure to get an earful.

"I feel like if we lost Chinatown here in Philly, then a big part of me would just be gone," said Cui.

"I think it's up to us to save all of Chinatown, and perhaps in the future as well," said Suzi.

Wei says it's about the future of not just Chinatown but the entire city.

"We're not used to having placed based identification anymore, but that's the lifeblood of what makes cities matter what makes communities matter," said Wei.

"Honestly, for me, I'm not ready to say goodbye," said Lin.

A Chinatown steering committee has now been formed to serve as a liaison between the community and 76 DevCorp, and to explore a community benefit agreement. The committee will hold a number of public town halls. AAU is NOT part of the steering committee.

Action News did ask Gould if another location is an option at this point and the answer was that the current site is the only option it is considering right now.

76 Devcorp provided this fact sheet of what it calls misinformation. You can read it below: